Image is everything: Avoid common job-interview mistakes

Melissa Erickson

When you’re looking for a job, appearances matter. The most qualified candidate can be quickly disregarded if he or she doesn’t look and act the part.

At a job interview, you only have a few seconds to make a good impression. How you’re dressed, your body language, your mannerisms and your demeanor can influence how a potential employer sees you.

A well-tailored suit sets the tone that you’re ready for business. Pairing the suit with flip-flops is a deal-breaker.

“My partner saw this once,” said Kathleen Hansen, associate publisher and creative director of Quintessential Careers. “Needless to say, he wasn’t hired.”

First things first

Cleaning up your social networking site needs to happen at the beginning of the job-searching process, not at the interview stage, Fletcher said.

“Don’t put anything — content or photos — on the Internet that you wouldn’t want you grandmother to see,” McDonald said.

Researching the company is also good strategy. “If you know what the company does, you can ask better questions,” he added.

Attention to detail

This list of what not to wear applies no matter what type of job you’re applying for, said Richard McDonald, president of A Advanced Resume Service in the Chicago suburbs.

“It’s the attention to detail, the little things, that separate you from the others,” he said.

After sitting though hundreds of interviews helping clients land jobs, McDonald has witnessed plenty of mistakes.

Cell phone use is one of them.

Bad or slouchy posture should be avoided: “Interviewees should sit up straight and lean slightly forward to appear eager and enthusiastic.”

A weak handshake wins no points. The same goes for chewing gum and nervous tics.

“In a panel interview, I once had an interviewee who swept his hand back and forth across the table at which he was seated for the entire interview. Another sniffed loudly and nervously throughout the session. Both were unaware of what they were doing,” Hansen said.

The most unacceptable behaviors often are verbal tics, such as pause words — “umm,” “uh,” “like,” “you know.”

These should be avoided.

“Since interviewees often aren’t aware they’re committing these behaviors,” Hansen said, “they should do mock interviews and possibly be video recorded.”

What to wear

A first meeting sets the tone for the future, and nothing is more obvious than your apparel.

“My rule of thumb is always dress one step up from the people who work there — if the employees wear T-shirts and jeans, you should wear khakis and a polo shirt (for guys) or a smart skirt and blouse (for women),” said Louise Fletcher, president of Blue Sky Resumes, based in New York.

Tips to dress the part

Here are some tips on what to wear on a job interview:

- Men wear dress pants and always a tie.

- Women wear business-appropriate clothing.

- No jeans.

- No shorts.

- No flip-flops or gym shoes.

- No blouses that are too short, too tight or too revealing.

- No pants that are too low-rise or too tight.

- No mini skirts.

- Keep your underwear under wraps.

- Don’t wear too much perfume or cologne.

- Don’t wear too much or too flashy jewelry.

- Body piercings and tattoos, though more acceptable than in the past, should be covered up or minimized.

- Avoid loud colors, although women can bend this rule easier than men.

GateHouse News Service